Through our walk in life we encounter so many different things alone the way i.e. people, places, things, riches and for some poverty. On my journey I have met many of peoples, some nice and others not so nice. I have had the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world some places were very pretty and some were very interesting, be it the cultures or the skylines that made them interesting. Alone my journey I have had the pleasure to meet a very interesting young lady by the name of Katrenia Jefferson, that has inspired me to want to write about her and share her story/journey with each of you. At the end of this article I’m sure a lot of you will see why I was so inspired.
Jazzii – Who Is Katrenia Jefferson?
Katrenia – I am the eldest of five children, born in Jackson, Mississippi to the late Robert Lee and Nazell Jefferson. I am the mother of five children myself, four girls and one boy, I am a recording artist, songwriter and a cancer survivor.
Jazzii – Wow!!! I’m not sure where I want to start with the questions. (LOL) I’m not sure if I want to start with your musical career or start with you being a cancer survivor. Well, I guess I will start with your musical career since you have been singing longer then you have been a cancer survivor. So, tell us how long have you been singing and how did you get started?
Katrenia - How long I’ve been singing? I started singing when I was 8 years old. I got my start singing professionally when I join the Greater Fairview Youth Adult Choir, and did my first real recording at age 14.
Jazzii – Whom will you say has or is the most influential in or to your musical career?
Katrenia - The person that influenced me the most to sing was my mother. The way she could wow an audience was just incredible to me. Then I began to listen to others like Aretha Franklin, Bettye Swan and others that were her favorite. So many!!!!
Jazzii – I know you said that you have been singing for a very long time, but can you remember how old you were when you sang your first solo and where were you?
Katrenia - I was eight years old, and yes I remember the first my first solo, it was a Gospel song called "Speak Lord Jesus. I sung my first solo in an Elementary School program.
Jazzii – I understand that your mother is a singer as well and sing or sung with a Gospel group is that correct?
Katrenia - Yes my mother form a Gospel group in 1980, she called the group The Gospel Flames. She we were hot!!!
Jazzii – So when did you record your first professional recording?
Katrenia - My first recording….I have been very Blessed, because I was only 14 years old when I recorded my first song. I did my first real recording with a Gospel Choir “Greater Fairview Youth Adult Choir” from ‘Greater Fairview Baptist Church’ out of Jackson, Mississippi. It was recorded at Malaco Records, I did the title track and the album was entitled "Walk With Me Lord”.
Jazzii – Do I understand that you recorded your first professional recording before you had stage teeth?
Katrenia - (LOL) Yes I did Jazzii….We were on tour, touring the Eastern Seaboard and areas all around the Northern US.
Jazzii – In being so young, this must have been very exciting to you. Who are some of well-known named artists you have had the opportunity to perform on the same stage and card with singing Gospel?
Katrenia - Jazzii it was very exciting for me….I wanted to give it a shot just to see if I could do it…It seemed interesting enough to me especially as a child...I wanted to travel and I thought I could dance, LOL...So I went for it.
I had the pleasure of working next to big Gospel people like the Mighty Clouds of Joy,
Shirley Caesar, Slim And the Supreme Angels, The Hi Way Q. C.'s, The Canton Spirituals, The Williams Brothers and so many others.
Jazzii – You are now singing Soul, R&B and Southern Soul…At what point did you start singing R&B and what made you to decide to start singing R&B after performing with such greats as: Shirley Caesar, Dorothy Norwood and the Mighty Clouds of Joy to name a few?
Katrenia – Yes, I had an opportunity to sing background for Willie Clayton. So I went on the road with Willie Clayton and sung background for him for a few years.
Shortly after that experience, I was at a concert one summer in Jackson, Mississippi, I had went to actually see my friends Queen Ann Hines and the Late J Blackfoot who was on the show. J Blackfoot, Queen Ann Hines and I, we all had been friends for a very long time. That night at the show The Soul Children were on stage, they had been on the road for a while prior to coming to Jackson, Mississippi...When they started to sing “The Sweeter He His" Queen Ann Hines was hoarse and the notes were kicking her butt that night. So!!! She did something very much out of the ordinary, she said “Katrenia Jefferson” please come to the stage over the mic. I was shocked to death! But I walked up to the stage and she asked me “do you know this song?” I replied yes, she looked at Foot who had no idea what the hell was going on and she said to him “let her do this one, my voice is bout gone.” He said “if she can handle it.” I said to him “if I can handle it?” LOL!!! They pulled me up on that stage and boy oh boy!!! J Blackfoot and I wore that song out. I was brought into the group that night and the rest is history.
Jazzii – So, after getting with such producers, songwriters and composers like Harrison Callaway Rue Davis and Frederick Knight, did you go on to sing as a solo artist or were you with a group?
Katrenia – Both as a solo artist and in a group. In 1978, I recorded with Omega Records, in Jackson, Mississippi with Vernon S. Weakley and Daniel R. Gilmore. I recorded a song called “If You Walk”.
Jazzii – Somewhere in between today and when you started singing Gospel you got married and had some children let’s talk about that.
Katrenia – Well!!!! I married Danny R. Gilmore. After we got married we started a family, having baby after baby. I loved this man with all my heart, but he did not realize what a prize he had. In between our babies, I was singing in my mother’s Gospel group the Gospel Flames…
In 1980 I recorded “You’ve Got To Understand Me (Don’t Give Me No Hassle) with Omega Records. Daniel and I wrote the song together.
In 1990 I went to “J Town Records” who was also located in Jackson, Mississippi and I recorded a song called “Quick Shot”.
Jazzii – Your marriage took a bitter turn, do you care to discuss what happen or talk about the contributing factors to the breakdown of your marriage?
Katrenia – After ten years the marriage ended on a very bad note leaving me broken and alone. My kids were taken and put in temporary foster care while we were in a long custody battle over them. Court day came and I LOST, I LOST THE CUSTODY CASE. That was the worst day of my life; my emotions were out of control, I wanted to kill. I wanted to kill on one hand die on the other hand. My children felled victim to our rotten decisions. Once again I felt abandon and betrayed because I had lost my babies to this man. I remembered just thinking “How could a man just take a woman’s children and asking the Lord to have mercy on me. That was one of the hardest times in my life.
Jazzii – Your ex-husband took you to court for custody of the children…And you lost the custody case to your ex-husband…As a mother, what advice or suggestions would you have to lend or offer others that may be going through the same situations that you have already experienced?
Katrenia - The advice I would give anyone that will listen is to seek the Lord and trust your heart. I didn't do that. Deep inside I knew this man was not good for me. But I fell so deep in love with him.
Jazzii – What did you do to help you get through those situations?
Katrenia - The things I did to get through it was; I join a band and we went to Tokyo, Japan. I was so Wounded, I mean Deeply Wounded from the divorce and then to turn right around and lose my children to the very man that had hurt me…to I just wrapped myself in the music and my music. There I found comfort. I wrote about it and sung about it hard.
Jazzii – What changed, to get you to want to start recording and performing again?
Katrenia - What gave me the STRENGHT to carry on…Was my Soul Desires. I wanted to make a difference in my life. I knew I could move people. And I learned that people actually enjoyed listening to me.
Jazzii – Your comeback hit…..is a cover of Lenny Williams’ mega-hit “Cause I Love You”….What in the world made you take on such a classic as that?
Katrenia - Why ‘Cause I Love You’! Because Chris Carr owner of Finesse Records walked in the studio one day and said "Katrenia I got the perfect song for you" I said what song? He said “Cause I Love You”! I said Ooooo yeah!! That's a good one. I got in touched my producer the Late LaValle Benson who got on the music for us, ‘what a talented guy he was’. We got the clearance for the song…went back to the studio and the rest is history.
Jazzii – The song is doing very well for you, what kind of follow up song can we expect to follow such a debut of your career as a solo artist in the R&B, Soul and Southern Soul genres?
Katrenia - My follow up is going to be the bomb! That's all I'll say bout that… LOL
Jazzii – When can we expect the follow up song?
Katrenia - I’m releasing another single now to give them something else from Katrenia Jefferson, and my CD will follow shortly thereafter.
Jazzii – Ok, I wasn’t aware that you had released “That Thang” in 2012. So what is the follow up now or should I say the new release and when can we expect the release?
Katrenia – “That Thang” was released in 2012. Mel Waiters produced this song and he loves it. He loves me and I definitely love him in a very special way. Mel came into my life at a time when I really needed a friend and a true friend he has been.
Jazzii – Tell us a little about your career as a solo artist in the Soul R&B Genre, like who you have been billed with and where have you performed in this genre.
Katrenia - Who have I been billed with? Many, many, well known artist. I don't know where to start. Let me start with my gospel artist I have shared the stage with numerous outstanding artist such as Joe Ligon and the Mighty Clouds of Joy, Shirley Caesar, Mattie Moss Clark and the Clark Sisters. I remember Ms. Clark approached my mother at a gospel show and wanted me to join forces with her girls to sing with them. Twinkie was a very young girl singing in her heart out. As I got older and later heard of the Clark Sisters, I remember telling my mother...you made a big mistake. LOL But back to the question, Bobby Rush, Mel Waiters, JWonn, Dave Mack, Lacee, Calvin Richardson, Shirley Brown, Klass Band, LJ Echols, Nathaniel Kimble, Roy C, Ms. Jody, Latimore, Nellie Travis and many others.
Jazzii – Now!!! Let’s speak about your health. Back in 2009 you were diagnosis with Breast Cancer….We can safely say that you are Blessed, because you are still here today and able to share your story to many. Tell us what happened with you and the Cancer?
Katrenia - My health…All I can say is that God is so good to me. I love him. I was diagnosed with this horrid thing in 2009. Once again I'm faced with another adversity but my faith is strong. I believe in the power of prayer. Jazzii right now my eyes are filling up with water, not because I'm sad, but because I'm so grateful. Sometimes it’s so hard to just sleep. I don't want to miss a thing. I was taking a shower one morning, like most women should do, I was examining myself. I felt a tiny bump. And without hesitation I jump out and made a phone call to Ms. Caroline Patton, a nurse that knows me very well. She instantly told me what to do. She said ‘come on in Katrenia’, I was there in 20 min. The process went very fast. After about three (3) days they told me it was cancer. My sister went through this as and two my first cousins both of them died. So you can imagine how that made me felt to hear those words. I asked my doctor, am I going to die? He told me not from this. I broke down, all the way down. I thought about all the people in my life. The ones I love and use to love. At the time my 2nd husband and I was trying to, I guess reconcile, but he decided he didn't want to love me anymore. He told me to go away, in so many words.
My heart was crushed once again. I didn't know what to do but I quickly got my priorities intact. When I really thought about it, Hell, he didn't matter any way. Nothing did, only me. I was the only one that mattered, me and only me, me and the Lord. I realized that the Lord had this and he helped me get through it. Jazzii the road was tough. I cried everyday unto the Lord “Help Me Please”. I was in a very dark place. No one would help Katrenia. Nobody but Jesus and he brought me through it.
Jazzii – You are an advocate for women’s health, tell us about your advocacy.
Katrenia - Yes, strongly pushing and encouraging young women and women to do self-breast exams. I was also a host in 2010 for the American Cancer Society Gala.
Jazzii – What is the Magnificent Ladies?
Katrenia – The Magnificent Ladies is a Non-Profit Organization, consisting if three Strong Black Women: Wanda Evers, April McAlister and myself. The group does several different Fund Raising Benefit Programs and the monies go to help families in need i.e. Fire Victims etc....
Jazzii – What other organizations or civic groups are you involved with?
Katrenia – Another organization that I'm affiliated with is ‘The Megar Evers Scholarship Program’ that is founded by Merlie & Renia Evers.
Jazzii – Through all that you have been through in life, you are still standing and on a quest to conquer your dreams as an Entertainer. So many of us would have lost our minds or would have completely giving up if we had to go through all that you have endured. Your determination, your drive to keep pressing on has been enough for me to want to write about it. I feel like there maybe another Katrenia Jefferson out there somewhere in the world that need to read this and it may very well be enough of an encouragement to keep them holding on and know that they too can make it.
Katrenia – Although I have traveled a bumpy road I'm still grateful for what I've been blessed with. I was given this quest as you call it (LOL) for a reason. I believe that I was appointed to help bring my sisters out of bondage and my quest is not just mind, it’s ours. Am I my sisters’ keeper? Ask yourself that question and if your answer is yes, then we share the same outlook. I know that the world is filled with millions if women scared and along but I'm here to tell you that you are not along, I stand and walk with you. We make decisions every day that determined our lives and the way it may end up, some we regret and some we don't. The ones we regret haunt us forever, if there's no out, but you must dig deep and fine the place inside your heart that you've never been. Dig down it’s there.
Jazzii – I want to ask you about a song that you shared with me “Keeping My Baby”….I know there is a personal story behind the title; would you like to elaborate on it a little before we draw to a close?
Katrenia – No, not at this time.
Jazzii – In closing there is another song I heard you do and I know that at the time of this interview you have not recorded it……“I Intend To Take Your Place”……..When I reposted the sample on my Facebook page there was a lot of comments posted about the song. Will you tell us if this a true story? When will you be recording it and when can we expect to be able to get the song?
Katrenia – “I Intend To Take Your Place” this song makes a strong accusations, (LOL) but no there's no meaning behind this one, I actually heard it sung by Peggy Scott Adams and I loved her version of the song...I needed another hot song to add to my show…and it was perfect… that's all. (LOL)
Jazzii – Is there anything else that you may want to say or add that we may not have touched on at this time as we prepare to close out this interview?
Katrenia – Well we Jazzii, I believe we've touched on everything. Well almost everything. Let me add that I'm single with an open heart…I'm not looking but I do see what's around me, if you get my drift.
Thank you so dearly for believing in me Jazzii, I knew when I saw your face there was something special about you.
Jazzii – Well Katrenia, thank you and thank you for sharing your story with me and the readers of my column in the Jefferson Blues Magazine. I hope that by you sharing your story it will help a reader that is reading it or that the reader that has read it share it with someone that they know that may be experiencing what you have gone through whether it be in whole or part of your tribulations. Again, thank you.